For the past several years, I've been looking at ways to use new technologies to improve the reach and quality of WIB and American Job Center/One Stop services. The explosion in free and low-cost online tools has provided us with so many new opportunities to do things that in the past would have been prohibitively expensive to implement.
One area where I've been doing a lot of work in the last year or so is in how to use free technologies to support online coaching groups for job seekers.
I absolutely believe that one of the major services we need to be offering job seekers is ongoing job search coaching, helping them to set and achieve their job search goals. What I've found over and over again is that workshops just aren't enough. People need help in staying focused and motivated through the long, grueling months of job search. They need opportunities to practice responding to interview questions and they need help in troubleshooting all the problems and issues that come up as they apply for jobs.
While we can, of course, provide these services at an American Job Center/One Stop, we can also provide them online. This is especially helpful for rural areas, where people may have to travel for an hour or more to get to a physical location. Online coaching is also appealing to people who prefer to access services online or who may have limits on their ability to come into the One Stop.
In May-June of 2013, I worked with the North Central PA Workforce Investment Board to set up an online coaching process that they could use to service their job seekers in 6 counties.
We used Blogger (free blogging software) to set up the website for the project. And then we used Google Hangouts (free video-conferencing software) to run the coaching sessions. Hangouts can accommodate up to 10 devices at the same time and you can use it on a computer or laptop, a smartphone or a tablet. In addition to video-conferencing, it also allows you to share screens, presentations and documents, so it's a perfect tool for providing online coaching.
To get an idea of how a coaching session works through Hangouts, you can watch this recorded session below.
A few things I want to point out about this project:
- All the technologies we used are free and readily available. You just need a Google account to sign up.
- We saved participants time and money by using the online process--they didn't have to travel anywhere and they didn't have to spend money on gas.
- Although we had to deal with some technology hiccups, participants were able to use the technology pretty easily. As we went along, we were also able to identify the most common barriers and to prepare job seekers ahead of time to minimize problems.
- As staff used Hangouts to provide the coaching groups, they also began to see other ways to incorporate the technology into their work flow. Many started to conduct one-on-one appointments with job seekers through Hangouts and they also started doing practice interviews this way.
Although online coaching and support groups may not be appropriate for everyone, providing them as a service option can really expand your reach and scope with minimal investment. They're relatively easy to set up and cost next to nothing to run. And they open up a lot of opportunities for serving customers who might not otherwise engage with your services.